I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t look skyward when they hear or see a Spitfire overhead, equally most pilots would give their left arm to own a Spitfire. Sadly unless you inherit a vast fortune or win a lottery rollover for most of us it will remain a dream.
In mid-1990s, Australian enthusiast Mike O Sullivan came up with an idea of producing an all-aluminum 80% and 90% flying Spitfire replicas. The interest among aviation enthusiasts was such that Mike started a company, fittingly called Supermarine Aircraft, to manufacture his aircraft as assembly kits. The company seems to be doing well, with production facility recently moved to Texas, USA. When I first came across their MK26 Spitfire some 6 years ago I instantly wanted one, actually I had this idea to build three! But a change in my personal circumstances put this idea on hold.
In the mean time I became the Managing Director at Enstone Flying Club, so until recently the idea was just a distant memory. During a meeting with my business coach we were working on how we could get more people to Enstone, somehow the conversation got round to how it was possible to have Spitfire built for about £1.5million but it is also possible to ” build your own scale replica Spitfire that fly’s and handles like the real thing at a fraction of the cost and these kits can be built by anyone who knows one end of screw driver from the other…well almost”
I then recounted my idea of building three that we could fly in displays etc. Paul says that’s a fantastic idea , I want in, how!. Well Errr I hadn’t thought about it!
By the end of our session we had the outline of a plan.
The project is to pull together teams of builders to complete twelve 90% scale Supermarine Spitfires MK26B by the end of 2011. Any of the builders or pilots who want to, can go on to be trained to fly in formation. These pilots will go on to form an amateur operational squadron based from Enstone, Oxfordshire. The squadron will include ground crews, military vehicle enthusiasts and living history players all of which will come together under the “City of Oxford” squadron making this a truly unique club, with a regular calendar of events as a focal point for every member.
What will they be
The aircraft will be Spitfires MK26B. Wait, can hear the voices saying “There was no such mark of the Spitfire”. That’s true. MK26 and MK25 are two designations of the 80% and 75% Texas-made replicas, obviously chosen not to be confused with the original Spitfire marks. MK26B, introduced in 2004, is a 90% two-seater with V8 engine, long range fuel tanks and all the extras. We want all twelve aircraft to be identical for easy maintenance, servicing and parts etc.
Giving a reason for pilots to fly and home builders to complete their projects
We all know the reasons why most private pilots let their licences lapse and home builders fail to complete their aircraft. This project’s vision is to give pilots an opportunity to use their licence to become part of a display team. There will be training from ex-Red Arrows pilots on the finer points of formation flying upon gaining their CAA Display authorisation this will lead on to a calendar of events to take part in.
Groups of up to 12 owner builders will work together to complete each aircraft. By building all similar parts together builders will become experts, so can help with advice or practical help for other builders as we near completion of the squadron.
Never built an aeroplane before? Actually, you don’t need to be an aerospace engineer, these kits have been specifically designed to be built by complete novices. This is a team effort, so no lonely nights or weekends locked away in the garage. Team members will be working on different parts of the aircraft (depending on experience) at the same time and with plenty of space and support from Enstone engineers and local LAA inspectors, each section of the airframe will be completed expertly. As each builds progresses valuable knowledge and experience will be gained, this can then be passed on to the other build teams, as each flight arrives from Australia the next 3 Spits begin construction. The more we know the more efficiently each air frame will be completed.
A temporary building will be hired for the duration of the build, plus dedicated units for specialist tools and power generation . Once completed a squadron hangar will be built to house the aircraft at Enstone.
Groups will build the component parts in separate units allowing members to work on wings, fuselage and engines all at the same time allowing efficient build time. Plus all the facilities you would expect to find in an aircraft production facility will be just a few metres away in their own dedicated units with work benches, quality machine and pneumatic tools to make light work of any part of the build process.
Training new pilots
Enstone has been training pilots for 23 years and has a dedicated team of 6 career instructors. For this reason, we will be able to accept non-flying members to the squadron, and offer them flight training during the project. The training scheme will start on our basic trainers Cessna 152s and Piper Warriors, gaining the PPL/NPPL, followed by conversion training for tail wheel in our Piper Super Cub and finally onto one’s own Spitfire.
With 12 Spitfires available and a maximum of 12 builder members per airframe, there will be no shortage of opportunities for builders to get involved at the fraction of the cost of taking on a whole aircraft alone. Lone builders can become part of the squadron too, training will be available to them when they join up, we will need as many operational aircraft to cover all the envisaged events.
All paperwork will be handled by Enstone experts so all that team members have to do is build. With local LAA inspectors on hand and building the aircraft in threes or sixes this will also cut down on the number of inspections as multiple airframes can be inspected on the same visit. Also, Enstone flying club has the entire infrastructure plus a comfortable Club house with all the facilities required to provide a good base for operations during and after the build.
Butchers, bakers and candle stick makers
The squadron is going to need a whole host of individuals to make the whole thing into a grand performance. Butchers, bakers, painters, electricians, carpenters, PR and marketers all of life can get stuck in.
The Sealed Knot?
I was a member of this fabulous organisation for many years, if you are not familiar with it, the knot is a society whose members re created the battles of the English Civil War. They do it with great passion and authenticity and the public love it and turn up to the knots musters and major battles in their thousands. Our regiment loved getting the public in armour and learning musket drill and kids tasting 17th century soldiers food, marching around in helmet too big for them. It was great!
I see the Squadron performing a similar role, doing something completely amazing that the general public can really interact with. I want to see the 8 year old kid sat in one of our aircraft surrounded by members in period costume, telling them all about flying and that YES they could be a pilot one day and YES you can build your own aeroplane. How brilliant would that be!
Not only will the squadron be capable of taking part in big air shows, but because the wings can be removed the aircraft can be also transported by road to smaller events, recreating a squadron on the move. The military vehicle enthusiasts’ will provide transport vehicles, tea wagons, fuel bowsers, everything you would expect to see at a dispersed squadron. Re-enactors will provide personnel in period dress to make the ground event come alive whilst the flying part takes place overhead allowing the general public to get really get in close and perhaps “stroke an airframe” or two.
You can get involved from as little as £30pa as “squadron friend” register your interest by completing the form on Enstone Flying Club’s web site . Each build team member will be able to select what fraction of the build they feel comfortable with, we will then match the ½, ¼, 1/3, 1/8 1/12 etc. shares up to the available aircraft.